Ohio native Cody Garbrandt was meant for the UFC cage
February 21, 2016 12:00 AM
Cody Garbrandt, left, works out with his uncle Robert Meese during a UFC open practice session Friday at Stout Training Pittsburgh, two days before Sunday's UFC event at Consol Energy Center.
Cody Garbrandt, center, poses for photos with Steelers Mike Mitchell, left, and Arthur Moats, right, during a UFC open practice session Friday at Stout Training Pittsburgh.
Cody Garbrandt signs the shirt of Jennifer Zysk, 21, of Oakdale, during a UFC open practice session Friday at Stout Training Pittsburgh.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Cody Garbrandt wasn’t sure how the conversation would go, but he knew what he needed to say.
For as long as he could remember, he wanted to be a fighter. But a few years after dropping out of college, he needed money. An offer to be a coal miner would provide just that, but it would also threaten to derail his dream.
“Just give me the time,” Garbrandt pleaded with his mother, Jessica Enos, for one final chance. “I’ll make it. Trust me. I’m going to do it.”
Garbrandt has made good on the opportunity he was afforded, making it to the UFC and winning his first seven bouts heading into today’s fight night in Pittsburgh, the same city where his mixed martial arts career began. At 24, his career is largely just beginning. That he’s preparing to fight in an arena named after the company that once offered him a coal-mining job, however, says it all — for as young he is, he has already come quite far.
The challenges from which Garbrandt had to distance himself came early. His father has been in prison for almost his entire life, but they have only met for brief interactions.
Though Garbrandt didn’t harbor any ill will toward his father — “I can’t have hate for somebody I don’t know,” he said — his absence generated an internal rage that often got him into fights in and out of school.
“I grew up my whole life hearing fighting was wrong, from teachers and other people telling me that, about how I wouldn’t amount to anything with fighting,” Garbrandt said. “So when someone tells you something that constantly, you want to do it more. That’s why as a kid I fought a lot and got suspended from school.
“I wasn’t a bully and I never looked for trouble, but I felt like trouble was always around. So I fought.”
When he was 4, against his mother’s wishes, Garbrandt’s uncle Robert, an amateur boxer, would take him and his brother to spar at a gym 40 miles south of his hometown of Urichsville, Ohio. From there, a love was born.
By the time he was 14, Enos signed Garbrandt up for his school wrestling team.
“That anger helped him in some situations, but you have to be able to curb it and put it all in a positive spin,” Enos said. “Throughout the years, I think he finally figured out to balance that part of it out.”
He proved to be a natural, winning a state championship as a freshman and drawing attention from Division I schools such as Penn State by the end of his time in high school. Academic reasons forced him to end up at Newberry College, a Division II school in South Carolina, but within a year, he was back home in Ohio. As he put it, college just wasn’t for him, and after watching his first UFC fight several years earlier, wrestling wasn’t as alluring as it once was. He wanted to fight in the cage.
In need of a job, he turned to where many in his hometown do — the mines. He went through several weeks of coal-mining school and received his certificate. Though not particularly tall at 5 feet 6, Garbrandt’s chiseled, athletic frame made him an attractive candidate for openings and soon enough, Consol Energy presented him with an offer. Accepting it, though, would severely limit the time he could spend training.
With little hesitation and strong support, Enos gave her son the OK to reject the offer. Garbrandt moved to Pittsburgh, where he lived with friends and spent his days in the gym. His fighting career began as many do, bouncing around from one small venue to another. The first of those bouts came at the Iceoplex at Southpointe, a fight he won after breaking the first metacarpal in his hand and almost biting off part of his tongue while trying to break out of a guillotine choke.
It was an unglamorous life, but he knew it would lead somewhere.
“Sometimes it was very scarce money-wise for him, but he would tell me at least once a week, ‘I’m going to make it. I promise I’m going to do it,’ ” Enos said. “I honestly believed he was going to be something from that conversation. He just had so much determination.”
Barely five years later, Garbrandt is seen by many as a rising star in his weight class. None other than Jon “Bones” Jones, UFC’s top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter, tweeted late last year to praise him after the two worked out together.
A trek to stardom that once seemed so unsure is now growing more certain with each bout.
“You’ve just got to stay on course,” Garbrandt said. “You’ve got to believe in the path, you know?”
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